Most teachers know what it feels like to buried under a pile of marking (or what I call “grading”). Once I spent the entire week of Toussaint vacation grading exams, and it took more time than an actual week of teaching. The only bright spot was finding hilarious mistranslations and other mirth-inducing wranglings of the English language.
Note: I recently blogged about the visas and jobs that have allowed me to live in France over the last 3+ years. This post is about all the different long-stay working visas for France that I know of, because I’ve received quite a few inquiries on this topic. My previous post doesn’t discuss most of these options, since they don’t apply to me personally. There certainly may be other ways to legally live and work in France that I do not know about. This list is based on my personal experience and research. Some of you may know more than I do about some of these visas, so please feel free to jump in with information, corrections, and links to posts you’ve written in the comments!
People contact me often with questions about teaching English in France. Some find me through my blog, some find me through the International TEFL Academy alumni group. I am totally happy for people to reach out to me with questions. I had so many questions before I came here, and I’m still grateful for the supportive expat community.
But when I looked back on the questions I received last year, I realized that almost no one had taken the time to say thank you for the long and detailed messages I wrote. That was a little discouraging. So I’m writing this to make everything I know accessible in one place. If you’ve read this and done your research and you still have questions, I would love to hear from you and I’m happy to take the time to answer your questions, share resources, and tell you about my experience teaching in France.
If you have questions about teaching English in France, I’ve written lots of stuff about it here including how I got my jobs and my visas. Right now I’m going to focus specifically on ways to get a long-stay visa that allows you to work in France.
(And I’ve included a ton of additional resources, because I am not the first person to write about French bureaucracy.)
I am an American citizen, so I know the most about visas for Americans. If you are from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some other countries, you may be able to obtain a working holiday visa. (Sorry, Americans! No working holiday visa in France for us.) Check with your local French consulate.
Okay, let’s go. Here are all the ways I know to live and work legally in France.
Have an EU passport
If you have an EU passport, get out of here! You already have the right to work legally in France. Even if you are not European, sometimes European heritage can get you dual nationality. So if you parents or grandparents immigrated in the last century, check out the rules of the country they came from. (Start at the country’s consulate website.) You’ll probably need a lot of birth, death, and marriage certificates.
Marry a French citizen
Boom, a French spouse gets you a vie privée et familliale visa, which gives you the right to live and work in France. You have to renew it every year for three years (right, people with French spouses?) and then you can get a ten year visa. During that time, you can probably apply for French nationality too.
PACS with a French citizen
PACSing often gives you a vie privée et familiale visa if you have proof of cohabitation and already live in France, although it’s not as ironclad as marriage. (PACS is a civil union.) You usually need to have proof of at least year of cohabitation in France in order to get a resident’s permit as a pacsé(e). Emily wrote a great post on this here.
A student visa gives you the right to work about 20 hours/week. You must be enrolled as a full-time student. (If you want to live in Paris, Studying at the Sorbonne by Where Is Bryan? is great.)
If you want to live in France long-term, getting a degree from a French university opens a lot of doors in terms of legal status and employment (plus, it’s cheap!)
TAPIF language assistant program
This program will place you in a school (or two or three), hopefully in one of the regions you requested. It gives you the right to a travailleur temporaire visa. I’ve written about the program here.
This is a university teaching position for foreigners that allows you to have a one-year visa (renewable one time at the school’s discretion. You cannot be a lecteur/lectrice at another university – two years total as a lecteur/lectrice is the legal limit.) Your status may be travailleur temporaire or salarié, depending on how the préfecture is feeling. I’ve blogged about being a lectrice here.
Franco-American Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Trainee Visa
This visa is for Americans who have a four-year degree and are under 35. You must first obtain a work contract that meets the requirements, and then they will provide you with a visa for up to 18 months. More information here. (P.S. I’ve never actually met anyone on this visa, so if you’ve done it, do tell.)
Au Pair Visa
If you get a job as an au pair, you will be allowed to live in France. The visa requires you to take French language classes part time. The pay is usually low, but your living expenses will be taken care of. (Read How To Become An Au Pair from Ashley, who was an au pair in France.)
I know nothing about this visa because I am the opposite of a research scientist (unless methodically tasting pastries counts as research) but I know that it is a thing. I think you would be a “chercheur scientifique.” Check with your consulate.
Compétances et Talents Visa
If you have a long-term project (usually something in the arts, hence “talents“) that will somehow benefit France, you may be able to get a three-year visa. Check with your consulate for requirements. More from Jennyphoria.
Work visa sponsored by employer
This is very rare for English teachers, but never say never. Your employer can sponsor your visa but most will not because it is expensive and complicated for them, and they have to justify why they chose not to hire a French person. The request can be denied if the government feels they should not hire a foreigner. There are many ways for companies to hire native English speakers without this hassle – there are many E.U. nationals and anglophones with long-stay working visas. Most English teaching jobs specify that you must have working papers to apply. If you are an in-demand specialist (think more software engineer, less English teacher), this one may work for you!
Note that when I say “English teacher,” I am mainly referring to people with a TEFL certificate or a year or two of experience as a language assistant, since the majority of anglophones who come to France to teach English for a short period of time fall into this category. If you are a certified teacher with classroom experience, you may be able to get a job teaching at a private or international school. Dana has written a great post about how she got her job at an international school here.
Alternatively, your existing employer in your home country could send you overseas to work temporarily or long-term. (If you’re married, your spouse will probably not be able to work in France, depending on the type of visa they’re eligible for, but they can come and hang out with you.)
Please note that I am not a lawyer or immigration specialist, and you should not consider any of this legal advice. I have simply been in France for several years and have read a lot about visas. I have personal experience with a few of the visas I mentioned. You can read more about my experiences with French bureaucracy here.
Anything I missed? Please share a link or a story about your experience. When it comes to French bureaucracy, we all have to stick together!
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three and a half years. In July 2012, I was working on my TEFL certificate in Chicago. By the end of August, I was living in Paris.
Now I live in Lyon and I’m in my fourth year of teaching English in France. Here’s how I found work and got my visas.
Private language schools in Paris
My visa: I had a six-month student visa through a study abroad program. When I got it, six months seemed long, but they went by fast. You need to be enrolled in school full-time to get a student visa, which allows you to work about 20 hours a week. Public universities are inexpensive (a few hundred euros per year). You can also study at a language school. You can find more information on how to get a student visa via your regional French consulate.
My jobs: I was hired by a private language school soon after arriving in Paris. I had emailed my CV and was called in for an interview. Schools often recruit in September because everyone comes back from vacation for la rentrée – back to school, back to work. I worked 15-20 hours a week for the first three months, and then the school gave me fewer and fewer hours because they did not have enough new students. I had to find another job, but I only had a few months left on my visa, so most schools refused to even interview me. “Call us when you sort out your visa,” they said.
Finally, a language school for kids hired me to teach groups of children ages 3-10. I responded to their job posting online and then interviewed in person. I worked for them 10 hours a week until my visa expired, and then I worked for a wealthy bilingual family under the table on a “tourist visa” for a few months. I made more working for them than with language schools, even though I only worked two weeks a month. (I found their job posting at the American Chuch in Paris and sent them an email with my CV.)
The pay: Both language schools paid 18 euros/hour brut (so around 14 euros/hour net before taxes.) The other job paid 15 euros an hour net (with a fixed number of hours per week) and 100 euros/day when traveling.
See Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English In France for other helpful information.
TAPIF Language Assistant in Lyon
My visa: TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program In France) is a program for foreigners under 30 that allows you to work legally in France. I had a travailleur temporaire work visa. This visa is usually valid for about 9 months because the assistant contract is 7 months, but the San Francisco consulate did me a solid and gave me a 12 month visa (the maximum length).
My job: I worked 12 hours a week at a lycée in Lyon. I taught groups of 10-15 students ages 14-18. I got the job by applying to the TAPIF program, who placed me in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. The local education administration (the rectorat) gave me my school assignment over the summer. I also worked remotely for an American company as a travel assistant during this time.
The pay: Assistants net about 790 euros/month in metropolitan France (Paris too) for the duration of your contract. You work 12 hours a week (this can be split between several schools in the region.) This includes quite a few weeks of paid vacation (during the vacances scolaires.) Some schools provide low-cost housing on campus.
Years 3 & 4
Lectrice in Lyon
My visa: A lecteur/lectrice work contract allows foreigners to legally work in France for up to two years. (It’s a one year contract that can be renewed once if the school opts to keep you on.) I renewed my visa at the préfecture in Lyon instead of going back to the U.S. (If your visa is still valid and you are not changing status – from worker to student, for example – you can renew it in France.) I’ve blogged all about this process in case you’re interested. This year I had to wait in line for almost nine hours, starting at 3 a.m.! But now you can make appointments online… three months in advance. (Don’t worry, the préfecture is relatively painless in many other cities.) My visa is good for 1 year because that is the length of my lectrice contract.
My job: Lecteurs/lectrices are foreigners who teach at French universities. There is no national program; instead, you apply directly to the university if they have an opening. The job description and the application process vary depending on the school. Many schools will insist that you have a Masters degree, or a year of study towards one. Some schools will accept a TEFL certificate in lieu of this. I got an interview by sending my cover letter and CV to the head of the English department. Hiring season for lecteurs/lectrices is usually March through May, depending on the school.
Last year I taught 11-14 hours a week and this year I’ll teach 20 hours a week (we are compensated for teaching extra hours.) Some of my co-workers juggle another job on top of this. I’ve written all about the perks of being a lectrice here.
As I said, the lecteur/lectrice contract is 12 months long. If your school renews your contract, you can hold the position for a maximum of 2 years. It’s competitive because there are far fewer positions available than there are for assistants. In my opinion, this is the best job to have in France as an American teacher.
The pay: Lecteurs/lectrices earn a salary of around 1500 euros/month brut, or about 1250 net. This is paid for the twelve months of your contract, so it includes a significant amount of paid vacation. (Summer vacation, Christmas vacation, Toussaint vacation, winter vacation, spring vacation… and then some.) The number of hours vary by institution, but around 10-12 per week is normal. Beyond that, you are paid hourly for the extra hours you teach, 40 euros/hour brut. This is usually paid annually or bi-annually.
Note: French salaries are lower than Amerian salaries across the board. It’s really, really normal to earn less than 2,000 euros/month in many industries, especially at the beginning of your career. A lecteur/lectrice salary allows you to live comfortably almost anywhere in France (with the exception of Paris) even though it’s not a ton of money. For example, in Lyon you can live with roommates for around 400 euros/month and by yourself for 500-600 euros/month. Phone plans and public transport are cheaper, you won’t have car payments, and healthcare costs are negligible.
Other ways to work in France
Working Holiday Visa
If you from a country that offers a working holiday visa in France, it’s an excellent way to work in France. Americans cannot obtain a working holiday visa in France.
Franco-American Chamber of Commerce: American Trainees in France
If you are American, you may be able to get your visa sponsored by up to 18 months via the Franco-American Chamber of Commerce. You have to find a job that meets their requirements first, you must have a four-year degree, and you must be under 35. I have never actually met someone on this visa, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done. More information here.
Freelance lessons and tutoring
Some language assistants and students earn extra money by teaching private students. Many families look for native English speakers to tutor their kids. You can also post an ad in upscale neighborhoods, at schools, or online. People also post up-for-grabs gigs in city-specific Facebook groups (e.g. “English teachers in Lyon”). I don’t recommend that you count on this for your main source of income, but it can be a good way to earn some cash on the side.
Vacataires teach at universities like lecteurs and lectrices do, but they don’t have a monthly salary – they are paid only for the hours they teach (40 euros/hour brut). Like heures supplémentaires for salaried teachers, they are usually paid in chunks once or twice a year. You must have another primary employer, and you cannot get a visa for being a vacataire.
I’ve written a more complete post on how to get a visa here.
This is meant to be a brief overview of my time working in France. It is based solely on my personal experiences, which may not pertain to everybody. If you would like more information, you are welcome to contact me with questions. You might want to check out the other posts I’ve written about teaching English in France. The most popular ones are Preparing for TAPIF, Things I wish I’d known about teaching English in France, and my favorite lesson plans.
If you’ve written about teaching English in France, feel free to share a link! If you’d like to mention something I missed, I’d love to hear from you.
You know in L’auberge espagnole when Wendy, the English girl, doesn’t understand why Xavier calls his university the “fac”? Well, I work at “la fac.” It’s a public university – I work in “la faculté des langues,” the language department.
This week was my official back-to-school week. I actually have classes and students now! (What was I doing up until now? Lesson planning. Let’s say I was lesson planning.)
The last time I had classes and students was in May. Then I went on vacation.
Just kidding. I graded a zillion handwritten translation finals and invigilated exams. ( I think we’re supposed to say “proctored” in American, but it’s kind of an ugly word, and “invigilated” sounds like a Harry Potter spell.)
Then I went on vacation.
I’m happy to be back at work, though. I’m teaching almost double the hours I did last year, but I still have good balance – a few early mornings, and a couple mornings where I make coffee, read, and do laundry, and teach in the afternoon or evening. (I love being at home in the morning with the washing machine running. It’s so cozy.)
And I do like teaching when I’m gifted with a reasonably attentive and inquisitive class. I hate discipline. (“Wear a tie and look mean,” the head of the department joked. “It always works for me.”) I love thinking about words and talking about language. I love when students ask questions that make me think about my native language in ways I never considered.
For example, two students asked me the same question this week: when we use “they” as a gender neutral singular pronoun, do we change the verb conjugation to singular? So, we normally conjugate verbs like this – I eat, you eat, he/she/it eats, we eat, they eat. Right? But, these girls wanted to know, when we use “they” as a replacement for he/she/it, which has become increasingly common, does the verb conjugation change accordingly? Do we say, “they eats” because “they” is now singular? Well, no, we don’t. I never even thought about it. But it was a reasonable and logical question, and I love when students ask me things like this.
What? Pronouns are cool and interesting.
On the whole, the first week went smoothly, better than I could have expected. I was ready to lay down the law about chatting in class – French students tend to be very chatty, and it drives me crazy. Then when I get mad, they have no idea why I’m upset, and I get the, “Mais j’ai rien fait!” (“But I didn’t even do anything!”) But this week I had class after class of attentive twenty-year-old angels who listened (and laughed at my jokes, bless them).
There was that one class where I fell off the stage because the whiteboard is longer than the platform in front of it, but the students were kind enough to make me at least feel like they were laughing with me, not at me. But otherwise, I did my best to be a good teacher and stay out of trouble.
And then there was Thursday. Thursday is a long day for me. I start at 8 a.m. and I finish at 8 p.m. My classes get zanier as the day goes on.
In the morning, I have three first year classes, and I actually have a couple students that were in my classes at the lycée where I was a language assistant! Isn’t that cool? But it makes me inexplicably nervous. It’s a little like how performing in front of a huge crowd isn’t as nervewracking as being on stage when you know someone in the audience.
I get a break for lunch, thank goodness, and in the afternoon they have me running back and forth to opposite sides of the building for every single class. PLUS I have to stop and pick up a video projector for one of the classes smack in the middle because the classroom isn’t equipped with technology.
Naturally, that’s the wild card class because I haven’t taught it before and I know nothing about first year history students. Or history. By the time I picked up the projector and walked what I can only assume was a mile and a half to the other side of the building, I was ten minutes late, and after we all shuffled into the classroom and the students crowded themselves into seats against the back wall, I realized I had no idea how to work the damn video projector. I looked at it dubiously and poked some buttons on the top.
“Any of you guys know how to work this thing?” It wouldn’t be the first time students have rescued me from dysfunctional technology. They look at me like I’m a weirdo. I give them a writing assignment while I try to figure out the projector box thing. It takes me twenty minutes to get it to work.
Getting behind schedule results in a domino effect; I’m ten minutes late to every class for the rest of the day. In my next class, second year translation, the first slide of my PowerPoint is “Come to class on time.” #fail
Halfway through the class, I notice my laptop battery is at less than 10% and I have no power cord. Why didn’t I bring a charger on a day when I’m at school for twelve hours straight? Maybe I thought the laptop faires would come help me out, I don’t know. It wouldn’t be so bad, but this isn’t my last class of the day. I have one more second year class, and the whole lesson plan is in a PowerPoint. Merde.
In the ten minutes before I show up late, I try to figure out how I’m going to get through a 90 minute class with no materials. I can do the introduction without it, and I can do the grammar activity without it. The problem is that the bulk of the lesson revolves around two videos that I now can’t show.
I fell back on a packet of grammar quizzes in my bag that I had intended to do with an earlier class, but then I’d changed my mind and decided grammar on the very first day might be off-putting. I was worried about how it would go over, but it ended up being a good refresher. They did pretty well on most of it, which I hoped helped build their confidence, but they were stumped by “either” and “neither” (I sang them a little Ella Fitzgerald and got blank stares) and phrasal verbs (Throw the sandwich? Throw out the sandwich? Throw up the sandwich?)
I went home feeling energized and exhausted at the same time. Sometimes Thursdays are bad go-home-with-a-migraine days, but this one was pretty good. If the rest of the semester goes as well as the first week, I have no complaints. Even though I have less time to work on projects I started over the summer, it’s nice to be back into the routine of teaching.
Well, I say that now. Talk to me in a few weeks when I’m grading 400 midterm exams, and I might tell you a different story.
Are any of you teachers (or students)? How was your first week of school?
Hi there. If you’re not interested in getting your TEFL certificate to teach English abroad, then you’re welcome to skip this post. Maybe you’d like to read about travel or stupid things I’ve said in French instead?
If you are considering getting your TEFL certificate, I want to let you know that you can get $50 off your course with the International TEFL Academy, my TEFL alma mater. You can check it out here. Make sure to mention my name and the alumni referral program in order to get your $50 discount. I get $50 too for referring you. I hope that’s cool!
I took the full-time level 5 certification in Chicago three years ago. You might have heard of CELTA – this course is similar to that in terms of material covered. ITA offers the course in cities in the U.S. and around the world (Istanbul, Florence, Honolulu, Rio de Janiero, and Phnom Penh are just a few), and you can take it online as well.
I had been out of school for a couple years and I was geekily excited about learning and studying. I was that nerd with lots of questions and answers (even though in college I only spoke up in class when goaded). My teachers, Gosia and Jan, were experts, as well as really good teachers, which not all experts are. I remember Jan teaching us a lesson entirely in Czech to show us what it’s like to have class in a foreign language, and Gosia explaining differences between British and American English. (North Americans, did you know that in the U.K. it’s correct to say “at the weekend”? Brits, did you know we don’t say “in hospital”?*) She had an anecdote about coming to the U.S. from the U.K. and being bewildered by a compliment on her pants (which, if you don’t know, means underwear in British English).
We studied a huge range of topics, including different pedagogical approaches, teaching kids versus adults, cultural differences, and good old English grammar. We also had student teaching practicum at the school, so we planned out lessons and then actually taught them to small groups of ESL students. I think there were about twelve of us in the class and we all got along well, which made class more fun. A lot of my classmates went on to do cool stuff like teach in South Korea and Budapest. (#facebookstalking)
I worked in the writing center for three years in college and grammar talk didn’t phase me, but it’s amazing what you learn when you think about language from the perspective of a non-native speaker. I had never noticed that the past tense verb conjugations don’t change in English and it totally blew my mind. (I ate, you ate, she ate, we ate. See?!) I had also never really noticed how many phrasal verbs (verb + preposition) we use in English, and how tough they can be to learn. Like, there’s a big difference between “throw,” “throw out,” and “throw up,” right? But it’s so innate to native speakers that we don’t think twice.
Teaching is not easy and I think it really takes years of study and practice to be fully prepared. However most ESL teachers, especially those of us who aren’t going to be teachers forever, often just get thrown in the deep end when we start teaching! I was glad that I had at least taken a thorough TEFL course first.
Having a TEFL certificate has helped me get hired over here in France, although it’s not a requirement for the TAPIF program. I don’t think I would have my current job without it. If you have a significant amount of experience and a Master’s degree, you might get by without a TEFL certificate in France, but in some other countries it’s a requirement to teach English.
Right, getting a job! The majority of alumni seem to end up in Asia, because that’s where a lot of the demand is, but there are ITA alums teaching all over the world. Everyone working in the office has taught English abroad, everywhere from Chile to South Korea. My advisor at ITA was Christie, who is awesome! You meet with your advisor to talk about where you want to teach, how to find a job, etc. and they help you with your CV and cover letter. You also leave with a letter of recommendation, which is always nice.
One thing I appreciate about ITA is that they clearly strive to provide their students and alumni with the most accurate information possible. There is a wealth of alumni interviews on their site sorted by country which address things like getting a job, how much they earned, what it’s like living in that particular country, etc. (Mine is outdated and a little embarrassing! I’ve updated it so I hope the old one will be replaced soon.)
There is also an enormous alumni network. There are active ITA alumni Facebook groups for each country, which I think is a fantastic resource. Have a question about teaching English in Spain? You can get in touch with people who are currently teaching there.
I chose to get my TEFL certificate at the International TEFL Academy because it was a top-level accredited program (meaning it meets international standards of British Council and the like), and out of all the programs I researched in Chicago, it had the best value for the lowest price. I remember being disappointed that they didn’t have a magic solution for teaching in France, but honestly, there isn’t one. Ultimately I was happy with my choice of TEFL program, and I’m glad that I can still benefit from the alumni network over three years later.
If you have any questions about my experience with the International TEFL Academy, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help.
ITA did not compensate me in any way for this post. They don’t even know I’m writing it.
*Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and other lovely anglophones, we didn’t study the particularities of how English is spoken chez vous, but I’m interested to learn about it if you’d like to share! Canada and Ireland, it seems like you guys get lumped in with the U.S. and the U.K. respectively. Does that get annoying?
I receive a lot of inquiries about teaching English in France. My most popular post to date is on preparing for TAPIF, followed by Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English In France. Currently I’m seeing a lot of visitors from English-speaking countries around the world, and I’m guessing that a lot of you are future TAPIF language assistants. I don’t write a lot about TAPIF because there is already so much great information out there, but know that you’re welcome to contact me with questions or requests for a blog post. I had a ton of questions before I was an assistant and someone was nice enough to help me out (thanks Shannon!) so I’m happy to pay that forward. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite games and lessons that I’ve used many times in my three years of teaching English in France. I hope this will show you the kinds of things you might teach as an assistant, and maybe give you ideas for lesson plans you can cook up on your own.
Most Americans in France know how hard it is to get a visa and a job. If you don’t have EU nationality, a French spouse, or a rare and in-demand professional specialty, job opportunities are slimmer than the supermodels France recently banned, especially if you weren’t educated in France.
There are a couple solutions. You can work part time on a student visa while going to school (check), you can be a language assistant in a French elementary, middle, or high school (check), and, if you have the required education, you can be a lecteur or lectrice in a French university (check!)
(Other ways to live and work in France include being an au pair and getting your visa sponsored through the Franco-American chamber of commerce. If you’re Canadian or Australian, you may qualify for a working holiday visa.)
I’m about to embark on my fourth year in France and my second as a university lectrice. Here are some insights into my experience as a lectrice so far.
I frequently receive questions about teaching English in France. I try to answer honestly but recognize that what was true for me may not be true for everyone.
I came to France with wildly unrealistic expectations. Actually, no. I didn’t really have clear expectations. I didn’t know what to expect.
The problem was, it was hard to get accurate information on the reality of teaching in France, and I think that’s because the reality can vary so much. I read that you had to fly over here, knock on doors until someone offered you a teaching job, and then fly back home with your work contract to get your visa. I’m sure this has happened to a handful of people in the history of teaching English in France, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say THIS IS A LIE. In my opinion, the only way this would work is if you used the Franco-American chamber of commerce to sponsor your visa (they have an exchange program for professionals under 35 with a college degree). And you certainly could do that. If you can find a teaching contract that meets the requirements.
My TEFL program set the record straight on visas, but while they gave me an idea of what it was like to teach in France, I still didn’t really know what to expect. Before I launch into my list, let me give you the rundown on what I’ve done here: I’ve been a teacher in France since 2012. I taught for Business Talk France and Les Petits Bilingues in Paris, I worked as a TAPIF language assistant in a lycée in Lyon, and I’m starting my second year as a lectrice at a university in Lyon. I’ve taught pretty much all ages, all levels. I’ve even “taught” babies and stuff. (What? It was less stressful than teaching teens, and I’m handy with a tambourine.)
No, I’m not an expert – a few years of teaching does not an expert make! However, I’ve had a taste of a variety of teaching situations in France, and I sure know a hell of a lot more than before I came over here – thank goodness.
Before moving to France, I wish I had known that…
Teaching contracts aren’t full time, and your hours aren’t fixed
You’re going to laugh at me, but I thought if a language school hired me, I would work 35 hours a week. That’s a full French work week, right?! And I thought, if I work 35 hours a week and get paid 18 euros an hour (which is a common hourly rate), I’ll make 2500 euros a month! Anyone who knew anything about work in France was shaking their head and going, “No girl, just… no.” But I honestly didn’t know how it would work. So here’s the deal.
No one teaches 35 hours a week. No one. (If you do, please tell me your story!) In theory, you could if you worked two teaching jobs. But a full time teaching contract isn’t 35 hours anyway, because you need time to prep and lesson plan (which you will not be paid for, FYI.) The truth of the matter is, that while there are jobs out there that will offer you enough hours to live on, most language schools only offer part time hours as they have them available. For example, I started out working fifteen to twenty hours a week with a language school in September (which is probably the busiest time of the year), but in January, there were fewer students to teach and so I only worked ten hours or less with that language school. I interviewed with quite a few other language schools to see how they worked, and most of them offer students as they become available, a few hours a week at a time, and won’t guarantee a certain number of hours. This means you could go from being able to pay your rent to living on your savings and eating 99¢ pasta. Eek. That’s not what you want.
Bottom line: if you’re paid hourly and your hours are prone to fluctuate, you better hustle. Most teachers have more than one job.
Salaries are lower in France
I did have some co-workers who had full-time contracts. They were paid a monthly salary instead of hourly. (It’s often easier to negotiate this kind of contract with your current employer if they know you, like you, and want to keep you.) Their salary was about 1300 euros per month. To give you another example, Les Petits Bilingues is a language school for kids, and center managers work full time teaching and managing and earn 1800 euros per month. A French teacher in a French school earns about 1800 euros per month. A marketing professional might earn 2000-2500 euros per month, and an assistant or receptionist might earn 1300-1800. Minimum wage is higher compared to the United States (about 9-10 euros/hour) and government benefits are great, but overall, the payscale is lower than what you’ll find in the US. (If you have more examples or a different opinion, please tell me! This is based on my observations and personal experience, and certainly it can vary depending on the job.)
Sometimes, employers lie
Look. Not all language schools are bad. But sometimes, employers promise things that don’t turn out to be true. I’m sure that their intention is not to mislead teachers, usually. But the fact is, if you end up only working half the hours they promised you, you get screwed, whether they meant to lie to you or not. This happened to me with two language schools and it sucked a lot. If it’s not in your contract, there’s no guarantee. Have a back-up plan.
The dress code is on the casual side
When you’re moving to France, what do you pack? I didn’t know what I would have to wear to work, especially because I didn’t have a job yet! There are some situations where you want to look sharp – interviews of course, and when a language school that sends you to the student’s professional office to teach. In general, casual is fine as long as you still look nice. Business casual is okay, but jeans and a sweater are usually acceptable too. I like to dress up a little for classroom teaching because I look younger than I am, but some teachers dress more casually. If you’re working with kids, all bets are off. When in doubt, pack versatile clothes that you can dress up or dress down, but know that you won’t be expected to wear a suit or heels to work. It would actually be pretty weird if you did.
Classroom management is more important than your teaching skills
I’ve been working in the ESL field for over six years, and I love teaching adults and private lessons. You know what I suck at? Classroom management. With business language schools, this isn’t a problem because you teach grown-ups who have chosen to be there and presumably want to learn. With the TAPIF assistantship program and with schools like Les Petits Bilingues, it is a huge issue because you have to manage groups of kids, and they could be anywhere between three years old to eighteen years old. (Note: sometimes, language assistants aren’t responsible for their own classes – they might help the teacher in class or work with just a few students at a time. It completely depends on the school you end up in.)
In fact, although Les Petits Bilingues was impressed that I had a TEFL certificate, they were much more concerned with my experience managing groups of kids, for good reason. There’s no lesson planning involved with that particular company because they have their own materials, so corralling the kids is truly the toughest part of the job (seven year olds are the worst.)
The hardest part is this: you really have to discipline them in French. I don’t find that English is effective for discipline in most cases; they just don’t understand. And it is not easy to discipline kids in your second language.
Truth: I am not a scary person. I am small and smiley and baby-faced. If you are more intimidating than I am, or simply more comfortable and experienced in classroom management, this may not even be an issue. Good for you!
Visas are a big deal
I knew that I needed a visa to work in France. I knew that an employer was unlikely to sponsor me. But I didn’t realize how big a deal these legal things really are. Sometimes you even need legal status to work with a family privately, because they can get tax benefits by hiring you. You can work up to 20 hours a week on a student visa in France, and many people go this route (I did my first year.) No one is really calculating the number of hours you work, and some people say it’s an average of 20/week over a period of time that matters. I think this probably matters most if you are filing taxes, and I’m not sure what would really happen if you exceeded the limit (by working for two employers, for example) although I don’t recommend you break the law.
When employers find out that you’re not European, their first question will be about your legal status. Some of them are wary of student visas. When I had two months left on my visa, many schools wouldn’t even interview me. “Give us a call when you take care of your visa,” they said. Since schools can hire UK citizens with no extra paperwork, it makes it tougher on Americans looking for work. Canadians and Australians can get a working holiday visa in France, but that program doesn’t exist for Americans. Most job postings will say “must have the legal right to work in E.U. or don’t bother applying.”
Luckily, school is cheap here, and if you plan ahead you should be able to enroll as a full time student. Be warned that if you don’t actually go to school and pass your classes, you won’t be able to renew! I wish I had had this guide about enrolling in school in France before I came.
Christie was right… the TAPIF program is the way to go
Christie was my advisor at the International TEFL Academy in Chicago. Christie is awesome. And she told me that they really advise people who want to study in France to go through the TAPIF language assistant program. But I didn’t want to do that. No, I said, the pay is so low (about 800 euros per month net.) No, you don’t have any control over where you’re placed. No, I would have to wait until the following year to apply and I want to go to France now. (What a brat.)
Let me tell you, if you’re not studying in France, if there’s no exchange program with your home university, if you don’t have a European passport, I really believe that the TAPIF program is the way to go. I’ve done it both ways, and it was much easier being an assistant than it was doing it on my own. It can be a bit luck of the draw in terms of where you end up, and not everyone has a good experience. But at least you know you have 800 euros coming in every month, you have plenty of time to work another job on the side (assistants work 12 hours per week), and the visa process is easy-peasy. Sometimes schools even offer housing for cheap. Dana and Jill are former assistants who have written a ton of helpful posts about this program.
The most important part of your job is to get your students to use the language
Yes, grammar is important and you should know your stuff. Yes, private students may have individual needs that differ from each other, yes, it can be hard to incorporate oral activities in a large class. BUT. In general, the French school system drills verb tenses into their students’ brains, but many people are not confident speaking. In the vast majority of everyone I have taught in France, the written level is much higher than the oral level. This is normal when you learn in the classroom, and it was certainly the case with my French before I moved here.
When I tested grammar levels, my students knew all the irregular past participles and found written exercises too easy, but struggled with oral communication. Just getting them to use the language is huge, and if you’ve studied a foreign language yourself, you know how essential this is to making progress.
If they are prepping for a test like the TOEFL or TOEIC, it’s a different story, and of course you want to know your stuff so you can offer helpful grammatical explanations and help your students expand their capacities for expression in written and oral English. Many schools have their own curriculum they want you to use, which takes lesson planning off the table. (Less work for you, but also less freedom.)
But in general, I find over and over again that practice listening and speaking is what students need most, and where they have the least confidence. More likely than not, they know more than they think they do, and just never have the opportunity to put what they know into practice.
Note: If you’re a language assistant, this is the whole point of your job. Your students already have English teachers for learning grammar and taking tests – you want them to have fun using the language so that they like speaking English and want to continue to progress!
Some disclaimers and caveats:
This is my perspective, based on my personal experiences. Not everyone shares my perspective, so please take it all with a grain of salt (feel free to add tequila and lime if my ranting has left you depressed.) I wanted to write it because I had a hard time finding honest personal accounts of what it was like to teach in French language schools in particular before I moved. There are many bloggers writing about the TAPIF program, which is great!
If you disagree with me, I’d love to hear your story! If you’ve experienced something similar, well, I also love it when people agree with me.
Have you taught English abroad? What was your experience like?
Hello future language assistant. If you’re getting ready to come to France for the next school year, I’ve got some tips for you. I was an assistant in a lycée in Lyon in 2013-2014, and although I initially had my doubts about the program, I ended up having a great experience. Even though I had already been living and teaching in France for a year before I went, I reached out to past assistants to get tips from them and they were delightfully helpful. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas or resources in this post!
Do practice your French
In my opinion, the better your French is before you move, the easier it is to improve while you’re there. Before moving to France, I used Conversation Exchange to do a French/English language exchange. I also used Meetup to find a French language group in my area.
When you watch French movies, challenge yourself to take the subtitles off if you can, and watch French videos on YouTube. Try Golden Moustache Videos – they are hilarious and you can put on subtitles. (I know I just said to take the subtitles off, but you may want to have the option with Golden Moustache – their jokes go by fast, and subtitles can help you learn some of the slang they’re using.) The best one is the longest one, Le Fantôme de Merde. There’s also Norman fait des videos and Cyprien. You can also watch Quotidien in French, and for something a little more serious, C dans l’air.
The number one thing I wish I had known about sooner? Comme une Française TV. Géraldine makes great videos demonstrating expressions and cultural quirks that you just don’t learn in the classroom. I’m fluent in French and I still learn new things from her videos all time. Even if you’re a dude, it doesn’t matter – most of the topics are gender neutral.
You probably don’t need as much stuff as you think you do, and you are going to have to carry it all. You know you’re going to be going home with more stuff than you came with anyway!
(As I wrote in another post on teaching English in France, the dress code tends to be on the casual side, so don’t worry too much about bringing dressy clothes for work.)
Do connect with other assistants in your region
There should be a Facebook group for your city or region – find it and join it. Even if you really want to spend your year making French friends, not other anglophone friends, it is nice to have that online network when you have a question about lesson planning or opening your bank account. You don’t necessarily have to hang out with other assistants, but it’s a good idea to stay connected in the anglophone community. Sometimes being a foreigner is rough, and we have each other’s backs.
Do get in touch with your school
There’s some information you’re going to want sooner rather than later – will your school provide lodging? What will your schedule be? Will you be teaching your own classes, or having small conversation groups? You have no control over when someone gives you this information, and chances are no one will be in touch until the end of August or September because of les vacances, but at least if you send them an email (in French!) you’re opening the door for that communication to begin.
Do bring some props from home
You’re going to be talking about where you come from and your culture as much as you will be teaching English (more, in some cases). It’s great to have visual aids to present. Depending on your responsibilities and teaching style, you might want to have real English-language materials, like magazines, etc. to bring to class. Tip: think about presenting your city or region rather than (or in addition to) your country as a whole, especially if you’re American.
Don’t be too nice
If you’re responsible for a class, even if there are only eight students, be prepared to lay down the law from the start. Decide what is and is not acceptable in your class, and what the consequences will be if a student is uncooperative, and be consistent. If you don’t follow through, they will never take you seriously. Ask a teacher what the school rules are and what your options are to discipline, since you probably won’t be grading them.
Don’t mess up your consulate appointment
Going to the French consulate should be a million times easier than any French bureaucratic process in France. If you schedule your appointment ASAP, get all your paperwork lined up (there should be a list of requirements on your consulate’s website), and show up on time, there’s no reason it should go wrong.
Do feel free to tell the consulate if you have a reason to stay in France after the end of your contract
Your visa status is “travailleur temporaire.” You can have a visa with this status for up to a year. An assistant contract is usually seven months, and the visa is often valid 8-10 months – it depends on your consulate.
When I was getting my visa at the San Francisco consulate, the woman asked me if I would be staying in France after the end of my contract. Since I live in France and am annually plagued with visa obstacles, I wanted my visa to be valid as long as possible. That didn’t seem like the right thing to say at the consulate, though. I explained that my friend was getting married in September (true), so I needed to be able to stay in France until then. This kind sweet lady sent my passport back with a visa valid for 12 months. Woohoo!
Note: the 12 months start the day you arrive in France, not when your contract begins. That’s why you have to have purchased your plane ticket before your consulate appointment.
Of course, this all depends on which consulate you are at and who you speak with, but it can’t hurt to ask as long as you present a good reason!
Do get a new copy of your birth certificate with an apostille and don’t wait until the last minute!
You’ll need this to get a social security number and healthcare. They should accept a copy (color is better) at your appointment, but better to have the original on hand in case you need it. When I went to the Assurance Maladie, they didn’t require a translation for a birth certificate in English, but many people recommend that you have one done by a translator certified by the French consulate. (Note: L’assurance maladie is sometimes finicky with American birth certificates since they vary by state. Be persistent. You can read about my ordeal here.)
Do start looking for housing before you arrive
Finding somewhere to live can be a challenge. If your school offers lodging, I recommend that you take it. It will most likely be the cheapest option, and you can always move out if you find somewhere you’d prefer to live. Otherwise, network with other assistants and expats and search on leboncoin.fr (like French craigslist – it’s your best bet for finding a place.) It’s not necessarily likely that you’ll actually have somewhere to live when you arrive, but at least you’ll know the lay of the land. However…
Don’t get scammed on Leboncoin
Just like Craigslist, use caution on Leboncoin! There are tons of legit offers on the site, but if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Of course, never send money or personal information ahead of time. You might be tempted to wire a deposit if you’re in a panic about ending up homeless, but don’t do it! You will not end up living on the street. Okay?
Do have a credit card with no international fees, and do find out where you can withdraw cash with no fees
You’ve got to set up a bank account in France to get paid (but you need an address first!) but in the meantime, you still need money. Having a credit card with no international fees is a no-brainer, and you also want to check with your bank to find out where you can withdraw cash without getting charged (you gotta have cash!)
For example, in the States, I have an account at Bank of America. I can withdraw cash at BNP Paribas ATMs without getting charged per transaction (but I do pay a small percentage fee). I also have their Travel Rewards credit card, which I love a) because there are no international fees and b) because it has the little European chip in it, which makes it easier to use over here. (You literally have to show people how to swipe a credit card in their machine here, unless you’re somewhere with a large influx of non-European visitors. It is a completely foreign concept.)
Note: Even if you have a credit card with the chip, there are still some places it won’t work because it’s a foreign card, like the SNCF train station automated machines.
Don’t forget to tell your bank and credit cards where you’ll be so that your account doesn’t get blocked!
Because that is no fun for anyone.
Do have enough funds to last you a month or two when you arrive
You’re not going to get paid until the end of November. You might get an advance of a couple hundred euros at the end of October. You will still have to pay for stuff.
Don’t expect everyone to speak English
The English teachers at your school will speak English (right?) but the administration and the other teachers probably won’t. Some people will want to practice their English with you, so if your goal is to speak French, figure out a polite way to communicate that (just continuing to respond in French often does the trick.)
If you struggle with speaking French at first, that’s okay! Look up a list of necessary vocabulary before going into new situations. For example, if I go to the doctor, I make sure I have all the words I need to explain what my symptoms are, and if I go to the préfecture, I make sure I have a long list of profanities handy. (…Kidding.)
I’ve written more about teaching English in France (including lesson plans, types of visas, and getting a TEFL certificate) here.
Have you been a language assistant in France? What advice would you give?